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Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013

Madison Opera’s ‘Tosca’: A fine performance of a ‘shabby little shocker’

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A diva and a sharp knife prove a deadly combination in Tosca, which opened Madison Opera’s season this past weekend. But Giacomo Puccini’s perennial potboiler of love, death and political intrigue may have never sounded this good.

Once famously called a “shabby little shocker,” the opera tells the tale of Floria Tosca (soprano Melody Moore), her lover Mario Cavaradossi (tenor Scott Piper) and Baron Scarpia (baritone Nmon Ford), whose evil schemes prove to be the undoing of them all. Generally reviled when it premiered in Rome in 1900, the opera has become one of Puccini’s most popular works.

Played amid some impressive sets on loan from the Seattle Opera, director A. Scott Parry paints Tosca as fiery and flirtatious, a role to which Moore has no trouble rising. Her searing soprano soars to the heights of Overture Hall in Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts, yet still manages a tender, almost intimate rendition of the noted “Vissi d’arte” aria in Act II.

As Cavaradossi, Piper delivers a fine performance as the painter who loses his life for dabbling in the politics of the day. But the show may belong to Ford as Scarpia, who plots his brutal conquest of Tosca with the same fervor he gives to planning Cavaradossi’s undoing. His voice during the famous “Te Deum” sequence that ends Act I has sufficient edge and power, never once causing us to doubt his malevolent intent.

Maestro John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra do their usual excellent work and Karen Brown-Larimore’s exquisite costumes bring added vibrancy and color to the production. This is Madison Opera’s fifth time around for “Tosca” in its 53-year history, proving once again why the “shabby little shocker” has become an operatic favorite.